Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Planning Commission needs $50,000 and a few more months to finish Harrisburg comprehensive plan.

Concept drawings for Harrisburg’s comprehensive plan on display in consultant Bret Peters’ office.

It’s been one year since Harrisburg saw the first draft of the city’s new comprehensive plan, but officials now say they need more time and money to shepherd it to final approval.

The city Planning Commission, a seven-member volunteer body that has spent the last nine months line-editing the preliminary plan, intends to apply for a state grant and hire a new consultant to assemble the final draft.

They will request up to $50,000 from a state Act 47 grant fund, according to planning commissioner and City Council member Ausha Green.

The final document, which must be adopted by council, will guide development in Harrisburg for decades to come. The city’s current plan has not updated since the 1970s.

It’s unclear whether the city’s anticipated exit from the Act 47 financial recovery program will disqualify its grant application. City officials plan to petition the state to leave Act 47 in 2019, thanks to legislation passed this fall that grants Harrisburg special taxing authority.

According to Green, that’s all the more reason to finish a grant application soon.

“We’re trying to move forward as quickly as possible to make sure we can get the best results for the people of Harrisburg,” Green said. “We don’t want the plan to be tied up in limbo for years and years, because the data we currently have will be outdated.”

The commission would use the money to hire a planning consultant, who would provide technical assistance and implement the edits the commission has already made.

The commissioners also want to reformat the draft document in a more user-friendly template.

“In order to take it from where it is now and include all the comments, additions, deletions that we’ve made, we need labor to do that,” Green said.

Green did not know if the project would require the purchase of software. She expects most of the funds to be used for labor and said that the budget was based on the estimated time the commission has already spent editing the draft chapter by chapter.

Green estimated that the commission could submit a final plan to City Council in as many as six months if the commission receives the grant.

As a volunteer board, the commission cannot receive or manage funds. Any grant they obtain must go to the city.

The city’s planning bureau received a $10,000 allocation in Harrisburg’s 2018 budget to hire a new contractor for the comprehensive plan. Mayor Eric Papenfuse said on Wednesday that none of that money had been spent.

The mayor has previously laid blame for the stalled project with the planning commission, and said earlier this year that he intends to replace all seven of its members.

Green could not be reached today for additional comment.

It’s been three years since Harrisburg launched its comprehensive planning process, a $200,000 endeavor that was derailed due to disputes between a planning consultant and the city.

The city awarded the planning contract in 2015 to Bret Peters, owner of the Harrisburg-based Office of Planning and Architecture. He clashed with city officials when he failed to produce a draft plan by deadline; Peters later said the city’s timeline was too aggressive.

Peters asked for an additional $20,000 a month over an unspecified timeframe to complete the project.

Negotiations between Peters and the city devolved in 2016, when the city terminated his contract. Peters insisted that the contract could not be terminated because he had followed its terms.

Peters published a draft comprehensive plan in November 2017. Papenfuse called the document “unsalvageable,” saying its specificity would stifle development in the city.

Papenfuse had the planning bureau prepare a separate draft document for the Planning Commission’s consideration.

This year, the commission decided to use Peters’ draft as the city’s working comprehensive plan.  Commission members must approve the document before sending it to city council, which will vote whether to adopt it.

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